March 23, 2009: 20th Birthday of the Exxon Valdez Lie
Eco Disasters: Exxon Valdez 20 Years-On
By Greg Palast
"Gail, Please! Stick your hand in it!"
The petite Eskimo-Chugach woman gave me that you-dumb-ass-white-boy look.
"Gail, Gail. STICK YOUR DAMN HAND IN IT!" She stuck it in, under the gravel of the beach at Sleepy Bay, her village's fishing ground.
Gail's hand came up dripping with black, sickening goo. It could make you vomit. Oil from the Exxon Valdez.
It was already two years after the spill
and Exxon had crowed that Mother Nature had happily cleaned up their stinking oil mess for them. It was a lie. But the media wouldn't question the bald-faced bullshit. And who the hell was going to investigate Exxon's claim way out in some godforsaken Native village in the Prince William Sound? So I convinced the Natives to fly the lazy-ass reporters out to Sleepy Bay on rented float planes to see the oil that Exxon said wasn't there. The reporters looked, but didn't see it, because it was three inches under their feet, under the shingle rock of the icy beach. Gail pulled out her hand and now the whole place smelled like a gas station. The network crews wanted to puke. And now, with their eyes open, they saw the oil, the vile feces-colored smear across the glaciated ridge faces, the poisonous "bathtub ring" that ran for miles and miles at the high tide level.
And it's still there. Less for sure. But twenty years later, IT'S STILL THERE, GODDAMNIT. And I want YOU, dear reader, to stick your hand in it.
I want YOU, President Obama, to stick your hand in it before you blithely fulfill your Palin-esque campaign promise for a little more offshore drilling. Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez grounding and the smearing of 1,200 miles of Alaska's coastline with its oil. It also marks the 20th Anniversary of a lie. Lots of lies: catalogued in a four-volume investigation of the disaster; four volumes you'll never see. I wrote that report, with my team of investigators working with the Natives preparing fraud and racketeering charges against Exxon. You'll never see the report because Exxon lawyers threatened the Natives, "Mention the f-word [fraud] and you'll never get a dime" of compensation to clean up the villages. The Natives agreed to drop the fraud charge -- and Exxon stiffed them on the money. You're surprised, right?
Doubtless, for the 20th Anniversary of the Great Spill, the media will schlep out that old story that the tanker ran aground because its captain was drunk at the wheel. Bullshit. Yes, the captain was "three sheets to the wind" -- but sleeping it off below-decks. The ship was in the hands of the third mate who was driving blind. That is, the Exxon Valdez' Raycas radar system was turned off; turned off because it was busted and had been busted since its maiden voyage. Exxon didn't want to spend the cash to fix it. So the man at the helm, electronically blindfolded, drove it up onto the reef. So why the story of the drunken skipper? Because it lets Exxon off the hook: Calling it a case of "drunk driving" turns the disaster into a case of human error, not corporate penny-pinching Indeed, the "human error" tale was the hook used by the Bush-stacked Supreme Court to slash the punitive damages awarded against Exxon by 90%, from $5 billion, to half a billion for 30,000 Natives and fishermen. Chief Justice John Roberts erased almost all of the payment due with the la-dee-dah comment, "What more can a corporation do?"
Well, here's what they could have done: Besides fix the radar, Exxon could have set out equipment to contain the spill. Containing a spill is actually quite simple. Stick a rubber skirt around the oil slick and suck it back up. The law requires it and Exxon promised it. So, when the tanker hit, where was the rubber skirt and where was the sucker? Answer: The rubber skirt, called "boom" -- was a fiction. Exxon promised to have it sitting right there near the Native village at Bligh Reef. The oil company fulfilled that promised the cheap way: they lied. And the lie was engineered at the very top. After the spill, we got our hands on a series of memos describing a secret meeting of chief executives of Exxon and its oil company partners, including ARCO, a unit of British Petroleum.
In a meeting of these oil chieftains held in April 1988, ten months before the spill, Exxon rejected a plea from T.L. Polasek, the Vice-President of its Alaska shipping operations, to provide the oil spill containment equipment required by law. Polasek warned the CEOs it was "not possible" to contain a spill in the mid-Sound without the emergency set-up. Exxon angrily vetoed ARCO's suggestion that the oil companies supply the rubber skirts and other materiel that would have prevented the spill from spreading, virtually eliminating the spill's damage. Regulations state that no tanker may leave the Alaska port of Valdez without the "sucker" equipment, called a "containment barge," at the ready. Exxon signed off on the barge's readiness. But, that night twenty years ago, the barge was in dry-dock with its pumps locked up under arctic ice. By the time it arrived at the tanker, half a day after the spill, the oil was well along its thousand-mile killing path. Natives watched as the now-unstoppable oil overwhelmed their islands. Eyak Native elder Henry Makarka saw an otter rip out its own eyes burning from oil residue. Henry, pointing down a waterside dead-zone, told me, in a mix of Alutiiq and English, "If I had a machine gun, I'd shoot every one of those white sons-of-bitches."
Exxon promised -- promised -- to pay the Natives and other fisherman for all their losses. The Chief of the Natives at Nanwalek lost his boat to bankruptcy. His village, like other villages, Native and non-Native, decayed into alcoholism. The Mayor of fishing port Cordova killed himself, citing Exxon in his suicide note. On the island village of Chenega, Gail Evanoff's uncle Paul Kompkoff was hungry. Until the spill, he had lived on seal meat, razor clams and salmon Chenegans would catch, and on deer they hunted. The clams and salmon were declared deadly and the deer, not able to read the government warning signs, ate the poisoned vegetation and died. The President of Exxon, Lee Raymond, helicoptered into Chenega for a photo op. He promised to compensate the Natives and all fishermen for their losses, and Exxon would thoroughly clean the beaches. Uncle Paul told the Exxon chief of his hunger. The oil company, sensing PR disaster, shipped in seal meat to the isolated village. The cans were marked, "NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION."
Uncle Paul said, "Zoo food." Paul didn't want a seal in a can. He wanted a boat to go fishing, to bring the village back to life.
Two years after the spill, Otto Harrison, General Manager of Exxon USA, told Evanoff and me to forget about a fishing boat for Uncle Paul. Exxon was immortal and Natives were not.
The company would litigate for 20 years. They did. Only now, two decades on, Exxon has finally begun its payout of the court award -- but only ten cents on the dollar. And Uncle Paul's boat? No matter. Paul's dead. So are a third of the fishermen owed the money.
Lee Raymond, President of Exxon at the time of the spill -- and its President when the company made the secret decision to do without oil spill equipment, retired in April 2006. The company awarded him a $400 million retirement bonus, more than double the bonuses received by all AIG executives combined.
Gail's oily hand never made it to national television.
Greg Palast will be on Ring of Fire, March 28th 2009
Giant tanker docks safely at Milford Haven
March 20, 2009
The 136,000 ton Tembek from Qatar docked at the new South Hook deep water terminal the largest Liquid Natural Gas plant in Europe. This is the first of many massive tankers carrying refrigerated liquefied natural gas - kept at Minus 160°. This stuff expands by a factor of 600 times it's volume when exposed to normal temperature! London's Albert Hall will fit inside any one of the five LNG storage tanks. Protesters who tried to stop Her Majesty's
Government forcing this £13 Billion Gas Dump on Wales have been at the site all day.
Beryl John, who lives close by, said. "It's frightening. We're scared we'll be in danger if there is an escape of gas."
When the Empress hit the granite rocks of Milford Haven bay forty miles of coastline was contaminated with crude oil. see Braer & Sea Empress below
The money wasted on building this dream target for terrorist groups would have been far better spent on offshore-wind or sea-power or solar power.
Larger than the Eiffel the 136,000 ton Tembek is a floating eco disaster.
Protesters sounded a World War II air raid siren as the 136,000 ton floating eco disaster approached Milford Haven. A spokesman for the local protest group Safe Haven said. "A proper risk assessment of LNG spills has not been carried out."
Milford Haven is expected to handle 25% of Britain's gas supplies. The BBC website that constantly tells us about "terrorists in our midst" is helpfully supplying suicide bombers with a handy pipeline map.
BBC Map of Easy Targets: Gas & Oil Pipelines
Prince Andy Pandy In Qatar
UK to rely on explosive liquid gas from the royals Arab business partners.
Instead of directing the profits from our electricity bills into building safe, cheap power-systems here in Britain. The Queen's privatized energy supply outfits will feed billions of our money into oil and gas companies owned by the royal family and their Arab cronies.
above Feb. 2nd, 2005. Ras Laffan, fifty miles north of Doha. Prince Andy Pandy is watching his golfing pal, Qatar's Crown Prince, lay the cornerstone of a $12.8 billion gas project to supply Liquid Natural Gas to Britain. This shit will be piped ashore at Milford Haven Haven where a slight change in the wind direction shoved the crude oil tanker Sea Empress on the rocks and smashed it open...
Eco Disasters: Braer & Sea Empress
Tuesday 5, Jan. 1993. Shetland Islands
Stormy weather drove the tanker Braer onto the rocks. Over 84,000 tons of crude oil contaminated Shetlands coasts. In-shore fishermen lost their income. No-one can sell lobsters, cockles and mussels that taste like petrol. Lord Donaldson’s Inquiry into the Shetlands oil-spill recommended in future, heavy tugs should be stationed at 6 key points. Making help available within 6 hours to any ship in distress around Britain's coasts. Parliament and the public were told Lord Donaldson’s recommendations would be implemented before the end of 1993.
Milford Haven. Thursday 15 Feb. 1996.
A sharp change in the wind at low-tide caused the super-tanker Sea Empress to ground on the granite rocks of the Milford Estuary.
And so began a pantomime of monumental cock-up’s. Orchestrated by Prime Minister John Major and Transport Secretary, Sir George Young. Major dispatched Young to the scene to direct the Coast Guard, the Port Authority and the Milford Harbour Authority.
On the second day, as Young circled the bay in his helicopter, local people braved the stormy weather to watch the drama from the shore-line. They expected to see a heavy tug coming to the rescue. Instead they suspended belief as half a dozen tiny tugs bobbed about on the incoming tide comically helpless as the icy sea lifted the super-tanker off the rocks. Old men shook their heads as the Empress drifted across the estuary - onto the rocks on the other side. Children cringed at the stricken tanker grinding her belly on Welsh granite. Would she burst wide open? Where on earth was the heavy tug?
By the third day, TV coverage had attracted crowds from afar.
The media-circus ran out of words to describe Young’s incompetence.
On day four, everyone cheered as a rusty old heavy tug steamed into view. The tug was Chinese. On board was a Cantonese speaking chef Mr Paul Chung. Mr Chung was drafted in from the local Chinese-take-a-way.
The Chinese tug and the chef-cum-interpreter were far too late.
By now the Empress was crippled and listing 20 degrees to starboard. Night-fall hid a 5,000 ton slick bleeding from her wounds. The next day another 65,000 tons of crude haemorrhaged into the waves staining the local beaches with stinking-thick-black oil.
By the sixth day the assembled tugs managed to tow her into harbour. The slick by this time, had contaminated 120 miles of Welsh holiday coasts and inshore fisheries. Had a heavy tug been on stand-by, as John Major told the country it would be after the Shetlands Inquiry. The Empress would have been safely taken off the rocks into harbour within twelve hours of her first distress call.
As usual the Queen's Prime Mouthpiece, John Major, had lied to the people. The salvage contracts Major signed, with the Dutch salvage company Smit Tak, were Subject To Availability Contracts. In short; meaningless. If Smit Tak had no heavy tugs available. Distressed vessels would have to wait until Smit Tak hired one from another company.
So-called Transport Secretary Sir George Young is a typical servant of the oil and gas invested Queen. You may remember he refers to the homeless as. "Those who one has to step-over on the way to the opera..." HMG's Performance & Innovation Unit report, which made headline news, December 13, 2001, pointed-out that eighteen offshore wind farms would reverse Her Majesty's
policy of relying on her personal gas, oil and nuclear investments to supply Britain's (vastly-over-priced) electricity.
The Queen of course continues to ignore the report. As Head of State the Queen has always ignored and activity suppressed all safe clean power systems in favour of her personal profit from the oil wells she inherited. And as a royal one wouldn't want the bloody peasants getting dirt cheap power and electric cars that cost half the price would one?
offshore-wind sea-power solar power solar update March 21 2009